Pull-ups are an excellent workout and one of the most effective exercises for developing back muscles and strength, as well as in the lateral and trapezius muscles. However, in contrast to other calisthenics exercises, pull-ups must be performed using a bar or ledge elevated above the ground.
Unfortunately, pull-ups are a brutal workout that requires a good range of motion and immense upper body strength, which most people don’t have. Due to the reliance on upper-body muscles, many individuals, including those who lift weights, can’t perform even a single pull-up. Luckily, there are simple alternatives for those who don’t feel confident enough to do some pull-ups.
Stay put as we explore some pull-up alternative exercises to help you build upper body muscles.
Lat pulldowns are your best bet if you want to mimic the pulling motion like a typical pull-up. Many weightlifters include this move in their routines when they want to increase their back width. Lat pulldowns help athletes work on multiple muscle groups because they are compound exercises. They work the lats, biceps, upper back, forearms, and lower traps.
How It Should Be Done
- Set the knee pads on a lat pulldown machine to a height that allows you to restrain your legs throughout the workout.
- Pick a weight that will test your strength and stamina as you go through the motions.
- Set yourself comfortably on the sitting pad and put your knees into the knee pads.
- Using an overhand grip, hold the bar, ensuring that hands are spaced slightly wider than the distance between your shoulders.
- Bring the bar down towards your clavicle and retract your shoulders back. Always maintain an upright chest while working out to avoid back injuries.
- Try to contract your lats while in this posture and hold the contraction for around one to two seconds.
- Depending on your goals, complete the target sets and reps.
This pull-up alternative engages all pull muscles simultaneously, including the biceps, back traps, and all the stabilizers surrounding these muscles. And the best part about this move is that you can make it more challenging or easier based on your strength levels. This can be achieved by adjusting your foot location relative to the bar.
How To Execute Inverted Rows
- Set a barbell about hip height on a squat rack.
- Hold the bar with your hands spaced about shoulder-width apart, and ensure that you wrap your thumbs around it.
- Position yourself in a plank position by extending your legs straight in front of you.
- Lift yourself up until your chest comes into contact with the barbell.
- Gently lower yourself to the starting position
- Repeat several times while maintaining a straight body posture.
This pull-up alternative is a hybrid move targeting the lats and chest muscles. The lats are worked on at the beginning of the lift, then the pecs when the weight is brought above. Unlike most triceps exercises that require you to repeatedly press down and stretch at the elbows, dumbbell pullovers give your triceps a good workout without requiring you to do either.
How It Is Done
- Get on a workout bench with your head hanging at the edge, the upper back lying flat against the bench, and pick up a dumbbell.
- Extend both hands until they form a triangle grip around the neutral position of the dumbbell.
- Begin the exercise with the weight over your head and arms extended straight up the sky.
- Slowly extend your arms behind your head while ensuring a slight bend at the elbows. Move your hands further down as you can and feel the strain on the hand, chest, and back muscles.
- To return to the initial position, raise both arms above your head and pull up the dumbbell.
- Repeat the exercise to complete the desired reps
- Avoid using too heavy dumbbells since they can easily injure your hand and back muscles.
A towel row is a lateral pull-up that leverages a long towel to support the body and extend in a wide range of motion. Like the pull-up exercise, a towel row will strengthen your shoulders, midsection, and upper arms. The exercise is ideal for athletes who can’t access a bar.
Here Is How It’s Done
- Find a long towel and wrap it around a pole of your choice. Latch on both ends of the towel and get ready for action.
- Put your feet on the pole’s base, get comfortable, and lean back while keeping your arms straight.
- Slowly pull your body toward the pole while keeping a straight posture. The shoulder blades, in particular, must stay together.
- When your hands reach your chest, you can now stop. Slowly descend to the starting position and then repeat until you get tired.
The renegade row is a variation of a push-up that can be used as a warm-up for pull-ups. This exercise requires nothing more than a dumbbell. Unlike most pull-up alternatives, this moves works on a single arm at a time.
It is an excellent exercise for those who want to counteract the strength of their dominant arm. Conversely, renegade rows work your rhomboids, back delts, and obliques.
How to Do a Seamless Renegade Row
- Assume a normal push-up stance. Ensure that your hands are below your wrists and your wrists are directly under your shoulders.
- Grab a small dumbbell with an overhand grip in either hand.
- To continue working your core, maintain the plank push-up stance.
- However, lift the dumbbell without bending your elbows instead of doing push-ups. Once the dumbbell reaches your body right above your hips, this is a signal that you’ve reached the highest point.
- Slowly put it back on the ground and do the same on the other hand to finish your first row of renegades.
- Repeat as many times as you can to finish a set.
Wide Grip Seated Row
This pull-up variant requires a broader grasp than the typical seated cable row. With a broad grasp, you’ll focus more on working your lats than your center back, as you would when rowing.
How It’s Done
- Attach a handle with a straight bar to the seated row machine.
- Sit down, maintaining a neutral spine while bending your knees and leaning back slightly from the hips.
- Maintain an underhand grip on the bar with your hands wider than shoulder-width apart.
- Squeeze the shoulder blades together and try to pull the bar to your stomach
- Hold still for a second, then slowly return to the starting position.
- Perform as many reps and sets as you want.
Resistance Band Pull Apart
This is one of the most incredible resistance-band-based workouts. This resistance band warm-up is ideal for all fitness levels because of its simplicity, making it suitable for everyone, from novices to seasoned pros.
Although you won’t get jacked up from resistance band training, they help prevent “slouched shoulders” and develop upper-back muscle endurance. Resistant band pull-apart exercises do not directly substitute pull-ups but target the same muscles.
How to Perform a Band Pull Apart
- Grab the resistance band with a grip that is shoulder-width apart and at shoulder level.
- Keep it at chest level with your arms out in a straight line.
- Move the elbows back until they are parallel to the floor.
- Be as open as possible and try to pull your shoulder blades down
- Stop for a second, and then let the hands return to their original position.
- You can make reps and sets as possible
Dumbbell Kroc Row
Commonly known as the single-arm row, the dumbbell kroc row is a perfect pull-up alternative since it increases lats movement in a wide range of motions. Since it involves working on one arm at a time, it allows for great mind-muscle connection. This unilateral exercise also engages the core because stabilization is required throughout the move.
How You Should Do It
- Use your left hand to take a dumbbell in a neutral grip.
- Place the right hand and knee on the bench and let the left leg touch the ground to the side of the bench.
- Let your shoulders be in an elevated position than your hips
- Begin the session with your left arm fully extended and then pull it up until the elbow is adjacent to the ribcage.
- Slowly lower the weight by extending the elbow until it’s back where it started.
- Repeat as many times as you want, then switch to the right side.
One of the primary objectives of many fitness enthusiasts is to be able to perform a pull-up. Once you’re able to do a few, you can build incredible upper body strength. Unfortunately, most people struggle to even complete a single pull up.
However, if you cannot complete some tight pull-ups, don’t worry, as the alternatives discussed in this piece can help you achieve similar results. If you do three or four exercises on the list above, your back strength will reach new heights. Try these alternative exercises today and start a successful journey to attaining a masculine upper body.
Marko Rakic is a trail runner and fitness enthusiast from Sydney, Australia. He is the lead writer for The Ultimate Primate and believes the best way to live a happy life is to take a holistic approach to fitness and health.